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Hooray for ‘The Uniparty’
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Hooray for ‘The Uniparty’

Whatever that means.

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Thomas Massie of Kentucky at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on May 1, 2024. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

We start with a confession. At a press conference on Wednesday morning, “Moscow Madge” unveiled some new political merch—and, to my surprise, I’m eager to buy and wear it.

Who said populist demagoguery never produced anything good?

She called the presser to announce that she’ll force a vote next week on her motion to oust Speaker Mike Johnson, which has been pending in the House since late March. Greene filed that motion out of frustration after the speaker partnered with Democrats on a $1.2 trillion government funding package but held off on putting it on the floor, believing that it would be more useful held in reserve. She knew that Johnson would soon have to decide whether to support another round of military aid to Ukraine and hoped that the threat of being Kevin-McCarthy-ed would pressure him into opposing it.

It didn’t. The speaker chose to try to Make Ukraine Great Again.

Her bluff having been called, Greene was left with two unhappy options. She could relent on her motion to vacate and admit defeat (hah!) or she could move forward with it and antagonize the great majority of her own conference by doing so. As she weighed that dilemma, however, Democrats threw her a curveball: On Tuesday morning, Hakeem Jeffries and his deputies announced that if Greene brings her motion, they’ll side with Johnson by voting to kill it.

Defeat was now assured—but you know how MAGA is. The important thing is to fight, not to win. Grievance is the lifeblood of the movement; the more populists win and get their way, the less they have to feel aggrieved about. Better to lose and retain the establishment as a foil than to win and risk becoming it.

So on Wednesday, Greene vowed to fight on and lose to “The Uniparty” that had come together to save Mike Johnson.

That’s a cute talking point, but it’s not Democrats who’ll need to worry about their next primaries after voting to save Johnson, especially with many House progressives destined to join the effort next week. The people whom Greene wants on the record with respect to the speaker are members of her own party, of course, which is in keeping with her politics. The populist project aspires to replace traditional conservatives with post-liberals more fervently than it does to replace Democrats with Republicans, as the results in GOP primaries frequently remind us. And Moscow Madge has been unusually candid about it.

Hence her framing of the coming vote on Johnson. Her Republican colleagues can choose to oust him and side with The People—which in this case means by my guesstimation something like one-quarter of the population scattered across mostly rural areas—or they can choose to keep him and side with “The Uniparty.” Pretty straightforward. In theory.

In reality, the concept of “The Uniparty” isn’t straightforward.

“Uniparty” is reminiscent of “globalist” insofar as each word has a generally discernible meaning yet is often swallowed by convenient exceptions, as the populist agenda requires.

For instance, any MAGA diehard would tell you that Western support for Ukraine’s defense against rampaging Russian fascists is a case of globalist “warmongering,” to borrow a term from one of the most odious Republicans in Congress. But ask them if support for defending Taiwan from communist China is similarly “globalist” and they might pause. Ask them if U.S. support for Israel against Hamas is “globalist” and some might get indignant at the suggestion.

If you doubt me, compare Donald Trump’s comments this week to Time magazine on two theaters of foreign policy. Pressed about the fate of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea in his second term, he complained: “Why would we defend somebody? And we’re talking about a very wealthy country.” Pressed about whether he’d intervene in a war between Israel and Iran, his tone changed: “If they attack Israel, yes, we would be there.”

The degree to which “America First” does and doesn’t require resistance to interventions abroad depends on the degree of tribal affinity or antipathy that right-wing populists feel for the combatants in a particular conflict. When they start grumbling about “globalism” with respect to war, that’s their way of saying that their affinity for the side backed by Washington is lacking.

“Uniparty” is similarly slippery. Let’s consider: Among the many players in the conflict between Mike Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Greene, to whom does that term rightly apply?

Start with House Democrats. Are they truly “Uniparty” comrades of the speaker in this case? 

Even before Jeffries and his deputies issued their statement on Tuesday, support for Greene’s motion to vacate was weak among House Republicans. Only two of her GOP colleagues had stepped forward to endorse it; there were already at least that many House Democrats prepared to oppose the motion as of mid-April. Had Jeffries said nothing, Greene might have let the matter drop instead of forcing a House vote on the matter. Even if she did force a vote, he could have quietly allowed his members to vote how they wished instead of endorsing Johnson himself.

Instead, by bear-hugging the speaker, Jeffries deliberately inflamed populists’ impulse to demagogue their enemies within the Republican Party as cat’s-paws of the left. “Fresh bait always finds a fish,” a senior GOP official told Politico. “Jeffries throwing that out there, it’s chum in the water. Everyone knows what he did.” Greene took the bait, and now Democrats get to sit back and reap the benefits. A rift will open on the right over the speaker’s fate, pitting Republicans against each other. Johnson will be aggressively delegitimized as a “Democrat Speaker of the House” by right-wing critics, and he’ll theoretically owe House Democrats something for the favor they’ve done him, which may translate into fewer “messaging bills” on the floor and more bipartisan legislation. No wonder Johnson has tried to make clear he had no idea Jeffries’ statement was coming.

Jeffries calculated coldly and cleverly that his party stands to gain more on balance by rescuing Johnson than by giving him the McCarthy treatment. The speaker did the right thing for Ukraine, and so Democrats are willing to reward him for it. If and when he stops doing the right thing legislatively, their willingness to rescue him from the right’s Jacobins will stop as well. It’s a matter of creating self-interested incentives, not a case of friendly back-scratching altruism between members of a “Uniparty.”

How about Greene herself? Where does she get off pointing fingers about “The Uniparty”?

If bipartisan support for Johnson is enough to make him an avatar of “The Uniparty,” she needs to explain how her own motion to vacate, if successful, wouldn’t make her the same thing. She can’t get the 218 votes needed to oust him without near-unanimous support from Democrats, after all; when Kevin McCarthy was deposed last fall, all but eight of the ballots to remove him came from Jeffries’ conference. It’s a neat trick for Greene and her defenders to dub Johnson a de facto Democrat due to his temporary marriage of convenience with the left while she goes about trying to arrange the very same marriage for herself.

Greene would answer that, I assume, by noting that it’s not the mere fact of bipartisanship that makes Johnson’s coalition a “Uniparty,” it’s the fact that that coalition was built around a “Uniparty” policy priority: funding Ukraine. The speaker is being rewarded with Democratic support because he’s advancing the Democratic agenda. When Republicans join forces with the left to do that, that’s “The Uniparty.”

But this too is more complicated than populists would have us believe.

Ask the average House Republican who’s to blame for Democrats getting their way so often on legislation this term and they’ll have very strong opinions—but not about Mike Johnson. Time and again, they’d note, MAGA members have opposed GOP bills on important matters simply because the terms aren’t maximalist enough for their liking. That’s forced Johnson to choose between bowing to their unrealistic demands—which risks a long stalemate with the Democratic Senate while leaving those important policy matters unaddressed—or partnering with House Democrats to move bills that will necessarily be more liberal in substance than the GOP would prefer.

Simply put, populists have weakened their leader’s hand in negotiations by proving themselves unreliable partners and engineered legislative outcomes that are even less conservative than the initial bills that Johnson has offered. Look no further than the Ukraine aid package, which the speaker sought to pair with new border security measures as a sop to the MAGA wing. Some House Democrats might have signed onto that, but it all went up in smoke when three populist Republicans on the Rules Committee voted against the border bill to protest Ukraine funding. That forced Johnson to try to pass it under “suspension of the rules,” which requires the support of a two-thirds majority of the House. The bill fell short.

So instead of getting modest improvement on immigration enforcement, the GOP got nothing. “They’re making us the most bipartisan Congress ever,” one House Republican complained to Axios about the MAGA wing. “Because they are unwilling to compromise just a little bit in a divided government, they force us to make bigger concessions and deals with the Dems.” The numbers bear that out: To a freakish degree, the minority party has provided most of the votes on major legislation this term.

So tell me, who’s leading “The Uniparty”? Mike Johnson, or the populists who keep handing Hakeem Jeffries leverage over policy on one must-pass bill after another?

What about … Donald Trump? Is he part of “The Uniparty”?

One would think the populist-in-chief can’t be a member almost by definition. He’s the leader of the revolution; “The Uniparty” is what he and they are hoping to overthrow. But if “The Uniparty” is defined by the policy positions it takes, I’m not sure what conclusion we can reach except that the Mao Zedong of MAGA has unofficially joined the establishment lately.

Trump now agrees with Democrats that blue states should remain free to legalize abortion. He agrees with them that Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza is dragging on too long and that the devastation appears “heinous” and “horrible.” He agrees with them that the COVID-19 vaccines should be celebrated. He agrees with them that Ukraine’s survival is an “important” U.S. interest. And he agrees with them that Mike Johnson should remain speaker.

How many “Uniparty” positions is he permitted to hold before he’s considered One Of Them rather than One Of Us?

His own handpicked chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Whatley, reportedly met face-to-face with Greene on Tuesday to try to talk her out of moving forward against Johnson. “He said, one, this is not helpful, and two, we want to expand and grow the majority in the House,” a source told Politico, recounting the conversation. “He was clear that any disruption to the conference on these efforts, including filing this [motion to vacate], does not help the case for party unity.”

An RNC stooge locking arms with the Republican speaker, the Democratic minority leader, and Donald Trump to try to preserve the status quo in the House amid bitter populist disappointment sounds pretty “Uniparty” to me.

We can repeat the analysis with lesser Republicans. Reps. Matt Gaetz and Eli Crane each voted to oust Kevin McCarthy last fall, as any populist who despises “The Uniparty” might be expected to do. Gaetz seemed poised to give Johnson the same treatment, reportedly warning the speaker before the vote on Ukraine aid that Republicans would move to remove him if he pushed the bill. Gaetz even threatened his GOP colleagues who planned to support the measure, according to the Washington Post, “saying the far-right bloc would target them on social media and campaign against them.”

Fast-forward to Tuesday and Gaetz now sounds opposed to trying to oust Johnson while Crane is a flat “no.” Maybe Trump prevailed upon them to back down lest there be another round of Republican chaos in an election year. Or maybe they reflected on the weeks-long agony of trying to replace McCarthy last year and concluded that, even as revolutionaries, they should probably have some idea of who might succeed Johnson before resolving to guillotine him.

Either way, it sounds like they’re prepared to vote with the speaker and with Jeffries. Matt Gaetz: “Uniparty” or no?

The more closely you scrutinize this populist argle-bargle, the shallower it appears.

Ask a Trumpist how they think “The Uniparty” feels about this week’s pro-Hamas protests and they’d likely land somewhere between indifference and outright support for “woke” agitation. At the very least, I expect, they’d accuse “Uniparty” members of wanting to distract the public from the ugly campus spectacle that’s embarrassed the left and to refocus attention on some more trivial controversy.

But the reality is otherwise. Mike Johnson has immersed himself neck-deep in criticism of Columbia University, replete with a visit to campus last week where he was heckled. That’s smart politics, not only by amplifying an issue that plainly helps his party but by earning goodwill with populist Republicans who are disgruntled about the Ukraine package. The person who’s drawing public attention away from the protests is … Marjorie Taylor Greene, by forcing a showy yet ultimately pointless vote on removing the speaker.

Which one is serving “The Uniparty’s” (alleged) interests?

Another thing: If Greene is serious about exposing how “The Uniparty” in Washington thwarts the will of the people whom it claims to represent, why has she chosen Ukraine as the issue to illustrate that point?

It’s true that most Republican voters oppose further aid to Kyiv, but at least one recent national poll finds a narrow majority of Americans overall in favor. When “The Uniparty” does what most citizens want it to do—especially in an election year—that sounds like democracy at work. As one Dispatch colleague put it, “What if the ‘Uniparty’ is just what a majority of Americans think, broadly speaking?”

There is an issue, actually, on which Congress isn’t currently representing what a majority of Americans think. That would be Israel, which just received a new U.S. aid package despite the fact that 55 percent of adults now disapprove of Israeli military actions in Gaza. Greene herself opposes all foreign aid on grounds that taxpayer money should be used to address the border crisis instead, but she supports Israel in principle and has had few complaints about Johnson’s role in moving funding for Tel Aviv through the House. On the contrary: “It’s antisemitic to make Israeli aid contingent on funding Ukrainian Nazis,” she tweeted in mid-April. “These should be separate bills.”

If Greene cares about “The Uniparty” following the people’s will instead of enacting its own preferences, why isn’t she making more of a stink about Israel aid passing? And if the answer to that is “because Republican voters strongly support that aid and she has a duty to represent them,” then, er, how can she justify having voted no on the bill herself?

In the end, “Uniparty” is just populist shorthand for when some policy favored by the GOP base is thwarted in Congress with Republican help. It would be a defensible bit of sophistry if it were applied consistently, as one could argue (although I wouldn’t) that a representative should always vote the way a majority of his constituents prefers. If most Republican voters oppose Ukraine aid, Republicans in Congress should oppose it too.

But it isn’t used consistently, it’s used selectively, as Green’s “no” vote on the Israel bill demonstrates. To take just one example, poll Americans on various forms of gun control and you’ll find huge majorities across all parties—Republicans too!—in favor of all sorts of new restrictions. Even so, if a bill proposing those restrictions hit the floor in the House, I promise you’d never, ever hear Marjorie Taylor Greene complain about “The Uniparty” if members of both parties united to block it.

“Uniparty” is mostly demagoguery, as so much of modern Republican politics is. It’s good for fundraising and TV hits and it’s a subtle way to inculcate in populists the sense that there’s something untoward and conspiratorial going on when a bipartisan majority in Congress opposes their policy preferences. It also not very subtly implies that right-wing populists and traditional conservatives aren’t members of the same party in a meaningful sense: The former are Republicans, the latter are “Uniparty.”

Which is fine by me. The sooner conservatives come to see that Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t their ally, the better off we’ll all be. Hooray for “The Uniparty.”

Nick Catoggio is a staff writer at The Dispatch and is based in Texas. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 16 years gradually alienating a populist readership at Hot Air. When Nick isn’t busy writing a daily newsletter on politics, he’s … probably planning the next day’s newsletter.